A Tribute To The Man From Dixie

Robin pays tribute to industry veteran and MPN lead columnist, John Wykoff.

Swear by him or swear at him, John Wyckoff cut a wide swath through life. A true pioneer in the powersports industry, John worked his way through the ranks as a wrench-spinner, parts manager and ultimately dealer principal. He worked as a road rep, served a stint as director of marketing for Drag Specialties and later became the self-proclaimed "Lord Of Leather" when he founded Fitch Wyckoff International (now better known as IFW or Intersport Fashions West).

In later years, he could have taken it easy and indulged in his passions for architecture, travel, music and Native American history — Not John! Instead, he became even busier. He helped Harley-Davidson create its Ph.D program, served on both the AMA and MIC board of directors, offered consultation services to folks including some of the smallest dealerships all the way up to DMS giant ADP/Lightspeed, he gave keynote addresses at tradeshows, wrote a book on running a dealership … and then rewrote it 20 years later just for good measure!

His columns here in MPN (along with Barnett’s Magazine, Easyriders, Hot Bike, Motorcycle Consumer News, Dealership University’s website and dozens of other outlets) were just the tip of his creative iceberg. In fact, it was the written word that originally helped make "The Man From Dixie" an industry icon (pretty good for a dyslexic, he would laugh).

Even before he went to work for Drag, he used to be a road rep for Joe Baca of Dixie Distributing. John became known as the "Man from Dixie" because he worked in Georgia and sold for a company by the same name. He also authored a weekly race column in Cycle News East called "The Man From Dixie." He always wore a distinctive Australian bush hat folded on one side, and he was oftentimes the race announcer and contingency sponsor.

That first column and later his books and keynote presentations gave John an opportunity to reach out to the industry, and he stuck with it quite literally until the end. Over the years people have called Wyckoff everything from irascible to genteel and in working with, and against, him for the past 23 years, I say John was both … and more!

He really relished his role as industry gadfly. He became known as a "consumer terrorist" from his days of mystery shopping retail stores in any number of industries and then telling the sometimes shocked and outraged, sometimes grateful and appreciative, folks exactly like it was.

By the same token, he was deeply committed to the cause of making dealers better. Education and raising the retail bar, as well as a true love for the motorcycle business, continued to motivate John to the end of his days. As the cancer consumed him and despite the incredible pain, he never once missed an editorial deadline. Truth be told, he was running about three months ahead of all of us!

Just a couple of weeks before his passing, John called me and said we had to change the order of his remaining columns. Despite being tethered to an oxygen generator and on a morphine drip, the old fire still burned as brightly as ever. Don’t tell anyone, but he even crimped the morphine line so he could think clearly as he wrote what ultimately became the column we ran in the June issue.

He sent a follow-up e-mail the next day thanking me for the quick turnaround and joked about his title, so I agreed to promote him to "lead columnist" to help differentiate him from the "riff-raff" column writers like Mark Rodgers and Otis Hackett. Gallows humor, but vintage Wyckoff! Just as he lived life, John left on his own terms.

I just wish John would have written a farewell piece to make my job easier when it came time to give him a proper send off. It is tough to be a magazine guy when words fail you.

As for John’s last couple of columns, we are changing the intro text to reflect his parting words rather than a point of contact … well, sort of. Feeling his oats with his lofty new lead columnist title, John’s parting words were actually more along the lines of "Why cancel a good column just because I’m dead? Print it!"

I just hope that I can come close to his courage, integrity and undying passion for the industry when my time comes. I still don’t know if I want to cuss the loss of my friend or just cry. However John also said no crying allowed … @#$%#!

Back in 1984 during my first week on the job at McMullen Publishing, my then-editorial director took me to meet the legend in place of a Hot Bike editor who was on his way out. Wyckoff gave me that hawklike once-over of his and pronounced: "You might make it, kid." But before that compliment could sink in, he followed it up with a smile and added, "but probably not." John proceeded to keep me on my toes from that day until right up until his passing just before Mother’s Day.

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